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What the U.S. Gets Wrong About Iran

Ibn Khaldun, the 14th-century North African scholar, wrote that empires tended not to last beyond three generations. The founders of the first-generation are rough men united by hardship, grit and group solidarity, a concept he called asabiyyah. The next generation preserve the achievements of their forebears. By the third or fourth generation, however, the comforts of wealth and status erode ambition and unity, leaving them vulnerable to a new generation of power seekers with fire in their bellies.

In the 1979 Iranian revolution, religious fundamentalists with fire in their bellies transformed the country into an anti-American Islamist theocracy. Today Iran is still led by one of its first-generation revolutionaries — 83-year-old Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has ruled since 1989.…  Seguir leyendo »

La primera visita oficial de Joe Biden a Oriente Medio ha dejado al presidente americano en una posición incómoda. La abrupta salida de Afganistán fue una señal de que EEUU había dejado de priorizar la región, tras más de cuarenta años de presencia activa en ella, para concentrarse en el Pacífico. Sin embargo, la guerra de Ucrania ha forzado un nuevo giro hacia la región. Un giro en clave energética.

Este giro ha forzado a Biden a apoyarse en los aliados tradicionales de los EEUU (Israel y Arabia Saudí) para oponerse a Irán en un momento en el que Rusia y China empiezan a protagonizar los acontecimientos regionales.…  Seguir leyendo »

An Iranian man looks at exchange rates in Tehran on June 15. ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images

The Iran nuclear deal recently marked its seventh anniversary—but it may well turn out to be its last. Despite a year of negotiations in Vienna, which nearly delivered an agreement on how the United States and Iran would return to full compliance with the nuclear deal, the process is now on the verge of collapse.

All parties to the deal share blame, and they all stand to lose. For the West, there will be a dramatic setback for nonproliferation efforts in the Middle East. The failure of the nuclear deal also risks military escalation in a region playing a crucial role during the global energy crisis triggered by Russia’s war in Ukraine.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani meets Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Tehran, Iran on August 26, 2020. Iran's Presidency / Handout / Anadolu Agency via AFP

The Biden administration is facing formidable challenges in delivering on one of its campaign promises: returning to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Domestic politics are a significant obstacle. The agreement remains highly contentious among members of Congress. Many Republicans but also key Senate Democrats, who could hold up confirming senior administration officials, are opposed to lifting Trump-era sanctions on Iran. The Biden administration’s lagging pace now threatens to undo an agreement that was already faltering as a result of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign.

et Iran’s nuclear program is growing by the day, as the time it would take to enrich enough uranium for a single nuclear weapon shrinks.…  Seguir leyendo »

In the four decades since Iran’s Islamic Revolution, relations between Tehran and Washington have seen deep enmity offset by brief periods of rapprochement and tactical cooperation. As a new U.S. administration settles into office and asserts its intent to, in President Joe Biden’s words, “offer Tehran a credible path back to diplomacy,” one of those periods may be on the horizon again.

The Obama administration pursued diplomatic engagement with the Islamic Republic, holding direct as well as multilateral talks that culminated in the 2015 deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program, officially the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. Under the Trump administration, the strategic pendulum swung toward an adversarial approach, largely defined by a “maximum pressure” policy of applying sweeping unilateral U.S.…  Seguir leyendo »

Afghanistan may not rank in the top tier of U.S. President Joe Biden’s policy priorities, given the host of pressing crises in the United States. But Afghanistan’s fate hinges in large part on how the Biden team decides to approach the country’s conflict and its tenuous, still-nascent peace process. Biden will be compelled to make critical decisions on Afghanistan during his first months in office that will affect the country’s conflict—and relationship with the U.S.—for years to come.

Over the past year, the outgoing U.S. administration attempted to set a peace process in motion by signing a political agreement with the Taliban in February 2020, exchanging a commitment to withdraw international military forces for assurances the insurgent group would address transnational terrorism concerns, enter peace talks with the Afghan government, and work toward a cease-fire and political roadmap to end the war, among other things.…  Seguir leyendo »

The impending peace agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel is a game-changer for the entire Middle East.

In addition to wedding one of world's wealthiest states (the UAE) with its most innovative (Israel), it also opens new avenues toward peace. Realizing that other Arab states may soon follow the UAE's lead, and that time is no longer on their side, the Palestinians may well return to the negotiating table.

An Israeli public that is secure in its newfound relations with the Arab world will be more likely to make concessions. Stalemated for almost 30 years, the peace process might finally be revived.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iranian firefighters disinfect streets in Tehran in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus on March 13. AFP via Getty Images

If Iran’s leaders thought things couldn’t get worse, they were wrong. The country faces three simultaneous crises: a public health emergency that is worsening by the hour, tensions with the United States that have once again grown in the past few days, and an economic picture that could go from troubled to dire in a matter of months.

The confluence of a coronavirus pandemic, security threats, and financial troubles has deepened the political system’s legitimacy crisis in the wake of last month’s parliamentary elections that saw the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history. Washington might view this as a validation of its so-called maximum pressure strategy against Tehran, but if it fails to capitalize on this moment to de-escalate tensions and lay the groundwork for a mutually beneficial diplomatic settlement, the leadership in Tehran is likely to become more aggressive in the region, increasing the risk of a conflict that neither side appears to want.…  Seguir leyendo »

Saeed and Niloufar at their civil wedding ceremony in London in 2019. Niloufar's parents, Shahin Shakooea and Masood Ebrahim, are standing behind them as Navaz joins in on FaceTime.

Living in Dallas for the past six years, I have ached to see my only sibling, Niloufar. There were days we missed each other so much that I almost wanted to give up my life in Dallas just to go and see her, but I knew if I left, I might not be able to come back to be here with my husband. I had to wait for my immigration case to process before I could visit them, and Niloufar couldn't come see me because of the recent US travel restrictions for Iranians.

I remember the day when I realized I couldn't go to Niloufar's civil marriage ceremony to my brother-in-law Saeed in London, where they lived; I cried.…  Seguir leyendo »

In a major speech in May 2018, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo outlined how the Trump administration sought to make Americans more secure from attack by Iran, deny that adversary a path to acquiring nuclear weapons, stop Iranian-backed terrorism, and reduce Iranian influence in the Middle East. By affirming these objectives, Secretary Pompeo was broadly adhering to the bipartisan consensus on US–Iranian policy that has prevailed for the last half-century. But to achieve these goals, President Trump and his administration adopted a radically different strategy from the previous administration’s.

President Obama and his administration made denying Iran a nuclear weapon their highest priority, and then deployed a mix of coercive and engagement policies—economic sanctions, cyber-attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities, as well as direct bilateral diplomacy—to persuade the Iranian government to negotiate an agreement to constrain Iran’s nuclear weapons program, which came to be known as Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).…  Seguir leyendo »

A medida que los Estados Unidos comienza un nuevo año, los tambores de guerra suenan más fuerte que nunca. Sin embargo, con demasiada facilidad olvidamos —entre recuerdos de guerras pasadas que se desvanecen— cómo comienzan las guerras. La historia deja en claro que, con demasiada frecuencia, la causa es un liderazgo fallido: no tener un buen juicio, calcular mal lo que los otros harán, enviar señales cruzadas a los adversarios, ignorar la inteligencia y confiar en la falsa creencia de que con solo el poder es suficiente para prevalecer rápidamente en cualquier guerra.

El siglo XXI en particular ha sido definido por guerras en las que es fácil entrar pero difícil salir.…  Seguir leyendo »

As tensions escalate in the Middle East, US President Donald Trump has threatened to strike targets in Iran should they seek to retaliate over the killing of Qassem Soleimani. According to the president’s tweet, these sites includes those that are ‘important to Iran and Iranian culture’.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper was quick on Monday to rule out any such action and acknowledged that the US would ‘follow the laws of armed conflict’. But Trump has not since commented further on the matter.

Any move to target Iranian cultural heritage could constitute a breach of the international laws protecting cultural property. Attacks on cultural sites are deemed unlawful under two United Nations conventions; the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property during Armed Conflict, and the 1972 UNESCO World Heritage Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.…  Seguir leyendo »

Mourners in Iran gathered around a vehicle carrying the coffin of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani in Kerman, his hometown, on Tuesday. Credit Atta Kenare/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

It was a hot day in June, 30 years ago. I was sweating in a chador, a speck in the black-clad throng of mourners pouring through Tehran for the funeral of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. As the keening crowd surged dangerously toward the grave site, I was lifted off my feet, lost in a heaving mass of humanity.

Then, I was a Middle East correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. My job was to understand and explain why what may have been the largest crowd of mourners ever assembled wept hysterically for a man my readers considered monstrous.

Today, three decades of diplomatic failure later, I watch from afar on cable news as a similar crowd in Iran, this time a deadly one, mourns Maj.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Trump preparing to call on Wednesday for new diplomatic efforts toward Iran. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

After a few days of quiet, Iran carried out its promised “severe revenge” for the United States’ killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani last week.

On Wednesday morning in the Middle East, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps launched 22 missiles at two American-run bases in Iraq. The attack was symbolically significant but resulted in limited damage and no loss of life. It demonstrated Iran’s ability to hit American assets in the region, but was calculated to give President Trump an off-ramp from escalating tensions into an all-out war.

Thankfully, he seems ready to take it. But even if war was avoided this time, heightened tensions and sporadic attacks will be the new normal in the Middle East.…  Seguir leyendo »

Protesters hold up an image of Qassem Soleimani during a demonstration in Tehran on 3 January. Photo: Getty Images.

An unexpected bounty for Iran

Sanam Vakil

The assassination of Qassem Soleimani has been an unexpected bounty for the Islamic Republic at a time when Iran was balancing multiple economic, domestic and regional pressures stemming from the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign.

Coming on the heels of anti-Iranian demonstrations in Iraq and Lebanon, and following Iran’s own November 2019 protests that resulted in a brutal government crackdown against its own people, the Soleimani killing has helped the Iranian government shift the narrative away from its perceived regional and domestic weaknesses to one of strength.

The massive funeral scenes in multiple Iranian cities displaying unending waves of mourners chanting against the United States has provided the Islamic Republic with a unique opportunity to showcase its mobilizing potential.…  Seguir leyendo »

A demonstration against the killing of General Suleimani in Tehran on Saturday. Credit Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press

The last time I wrote seriously about a war with Iran was in 2012. It had been an especially fraught year, with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards running naval exercises in the Persian Gulf, Israel and the United States conducting joint drills, and the safety of oil shipping lanes looking entirely unassured. Oil prices rattled skittishly, everyone suddenly monitored ships, and headlines speculated that Israel might attack Iran’s nuclear sites.

My assignment was to consider “the day after” — to imagine how Iranians would react if their country was bombed by Israel. My piece featured scenes of distraught young people gathering on crowded intersections singing the national anthem — suddenly everyone was a terrified Iranian citizen rather than an aspiring guitarist or a day laborer or whatever they were the day before — and a screaming mother buying formula to stockpile from a supermarket.…  Seguir leyendo »

Demonstrators marched in Washington on Saturday to protest the United States’ killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani of Iran. Credit Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Much of the discussion in the aftermath of the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani last week has focused on the legality of the attack: whether or not his death was carried out by “assassination” or “targeted killing.”

Administration officials have chosen the latter, following the war-on-terror playbook. They consider the strike a targeted killing, elaborating that it was justifiable as an act of self-defense. General Suleimani, officials say, was “actively plotting” a “big action” that would have cost “hundreds of lives,” thus posing an imminent threat. Others, such as Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have rightly rejected the term “targeted killing” and called it an assassination, implicitly raising a question about the legality as well as the wisdom of the strike.…  Seguir leyendo »

A heavy water secondary circuit at a nuclear plant near Arak, Iran, last month. Credit Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, via Associated Press

The costs of the United States’ targeted killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, are mounting beyond the already significant risks of Iranian retaliation and subsequent military confrontation.

On Sunday, Tehran announced that it will cease to honor all “operational restrictions” imposed by the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known as the Iran nuclear deal, which aimed to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

While Iran has not announced what, if any, specific nuclear activities it intends to resume, its decision to remove the restrictions on its uranium enrichment, production and research could soon pose a challenge for the Trump administration at least as great as retaliation against the assassination.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iranians tearing up a United States flag during a demonstration in Tehran on Friday after the killing of General Suleimani. Credit Atta Kenare/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Was the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, an act of war? If it was, it was a war in which the United States and Iran were already joined.

That war goes back to Lebanon in the early 1980s, where General Suleimani’s predecessors created what became Hezbollah. Iran, with Syria, helped stage the 1983 bombings of the American Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 Americans involved in a peacekeeping mission. As a young Foreign Service officer who survived those bombings, I saw how Iran succeeded in forcing the United States to withdraw its forces from Lebanon through terrorism.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, right, with Mr. Trump at an Oval Office meeting last month. Credit Al Drago for The New York Times

The targeted killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani and four others in a precision strike by an MQ-9 Reaper drone at Baghdad International Airport was an impressive display of American military prowess. And it liquidated a destabilizing figure: The general was the commander of the Quds Force, which is responsible for Iran’s covert and extraterritorial military operations. In the scheme of things, he had it coming. Yet killing him made little strategic sense for the United States. In some ways, the most significant thing about his death is what it shows about the breakdown of American foreign policymaking.

President Trump ordered the strike directly, prompted by the death of an American contractor on Dec.…  Seguir leyendo »